This week, Parametric movies- what the hell does it mean? To be honest with you, I’ve no idea. I spent hours reading various articles trying to deduce exactly what I was going to be talking about this week, but the closest I can get is that it is a style of film making, whereby the ‘style’ of the piece is deliberately given greater or equal interest as the story/plot/narrative, but in a way that draws attention to this and the limitations of the standard structure of filming. And that’s as close as I could get, I’m afraid. Perhaps this article should have been labelled merely ‘miscellaneous French films’.
Miscellaneous or not, though, this weeks films are certainly worth a look. The first one for our consideration is Robert Bresson’s 1959 film Pickpocket; the story, perhaps not surprisingly, of a pickpocket. Except that it’s not. Not really. Only in the way that Nausea is about Historical research. The comparison with a major existential work is deliberate; Pickpocket is, if anything, the definitive screen embodiment of existentialism, a philosophy that has had little luck in motion pictures (how many existential movies can you name?). The fact that it is in French only adds to this.
To be honest, I’m surprised Bresson’s films aren’t essential viewing for teenagers everywhere. One of his recurring themes is that of a disaffected individual (usually young), who comes to realise what a joke society is, and how nothing, ultimately, matters. This is 16 year old angst on the screen (no offence to existentialists); why it hasn’t got wider viewing is beyond me. Pickpocket has broader appeal though; narrated in flashback from prison we see the story of how Michel, young and disaffected, of course, ‘rises’ through a criminal hierarchy of pickpocketing, only to wind up in jail and, eventually, in love. Reminiscent of Goodfellas done 30 years earlier, and shot like a classic noir-thriller, the film’s appeal lies entirely around its deluded narrator, talking about his ‘horrific’ crimes as he steals 20 francs off an old lady. That it manages to ooze cool from every single shot is undeniable, but one can never escape the feeling that Bresson is taking the piss. You are, at once, completely enthralled by Michel, and laughing at him, and the love story that unfolds in the last twenty seconds of celluloid is so stupid and unexpected you cannot help but love it. Pickpocket is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, but at the same time so familiar it could, almost, have been done by anyone. Perhaps this is what is meant by parametric cinema, but either way, it’s a darn good movie.
Following the semi-comic existential broodings of Bresson, Mon Oncle by Jacques Tati was something of a complete change in direction. Ostensibly a silent comedy, it is also a rather obvious satire on technology and mankind’s lust for it, as well as a surreal world of set design torn straight from Edward Scissorhands. Except it was shot in 1958. Without the benefit of hindsight, Tati managed to parody 1950’s culture in a way no one else would (unless inadvertently) until decades later. Not that this makes the obviousness of it all any less irritating. Amazing set design it may be, but constantly being beat around the head with the message ‘old and quirky good, new and electronic bad’ is tiresome. The comedy too is sub-par. If you’re going to do silent comedy, you’re putting yourself in the company of Chaplin and Keaton, so you’d better be funny. And, despite the occasional gag, most of Mon Oncle raises little more than a good-natured chuckle. However, as has been said, it is a very visual film, and most of the jokes manage to mingle both characters and the set design in a way Keaton and co never did, so points for originality. And, despite my largely negative tone, it is very, very hard to dislike. Amiable and fairly pointless, it managed to make me laugh fairly little, but cheered me up nonetheless. And you can’t really dislike a movie that does that, can you? Of course not.